Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “Google Heads-Up Display Glasses Are Coming by the End of 2012 [REPORT]”

Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “Google Heads-Up Display Glasses Are Coming by the End of 2012 [REPORT]”

Google Heads-Up Display Glasses Are Coming by the End of 2012 [REPORT]

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 04:43 AM PST

Google plans to launch glasses with a heads-up display by the end of 2012, the New York Times reports citing sources familiar with the matter.

The glasses, who were previously rumored to have a front-facing camera with flash and a voice input interface, will be Android based, sources say.

They will include a display, mere inches from the wearer’s eye, streaming real-time info about your surroundings, similar to the various augmented reality applications we’ve seen on smartphones.

The data will be fetched through a 3G/4G data connection, and the glasses will retrieve information about their surroundings through GPS and several sensors.

The glasses will cost “around the price of current smartphones,” sources say. While definitely not very precise – current smartphones cost anywhere from $150 to $600 – this price range shows that Google intends the glasses as a product for the mass market.

Will these glasses be something you need as opposed to want? We doubt it – we haven’t seen a must-have augmented reality application yet, although we have seen some very cool ones in the past.

AR heads-up display glasses, however, are the stuff sci-fi dreams are made of, and it’s a product we’d definitely like to see in the real world – even if they make us look like total geeks.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Jason McDermott.

[via New York Times]

More About: Google, Google glasses, heads-up glasses

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Animated Google Doodle Honors Heinrich Hertz

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 01:30 AM PST

Today’s Google Doodle barely resembles the usual company logo, as Google celebrates the 155th birthday of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz.

The name Hertz is today familiar to practically everyone who’s in contact with computer technology. The processors that power today’s computers, smartphones and tablets all have their heartbeat expressed in hertz (Hz), or – more likely – megahertz or gigahertz.

Hertz is a SI unit of frequency which measures the number of cycles per second of a periodic phenomenon. German scientist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, who was born on Feb 22 1857, was the first to prove the existence of electromagnetic waves, and the hertz unit was established in his honor in 1930, thirty six years after his death.

Interestingly enough, though he was the first to prove that electromagnetic waves can travel over distance, Hertz did not find a use for his discovery. Nevertheless, his experiments with electromagnetism paved the way for the invention of radio and television.

Google Doodle in Hertz’ honor is one of the relatively rare animated doodles from the company. How do you think it compares with previous animated Google doodles?

Bonus: Here are the best Google Doodles of 2011:

1. Martin Luther King Jr.

This Google Doodle, displayed Jan. 17, features a group of children playing hopscotch — an homage to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: google doodle, Heinrich Hertz, Heinrich Rudolf Hertz

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Storify Launches an iPad App for Social Media Storytelling

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 12:46 AM PST

Social media storytelling tool Storify finally untethered itself from the desktop on Wednesday with the launch of a free iPad app.

Like the web-based version of Storify, which has been used by news organizations such as the New York Times and Al Jazeera, the app makes it easy to scroll through and assemble Tweets, YouTube videos, Facebook photos and Instagram photos in a social media timeline. Its drag-and-drop interface translates perfectly to the iPad.

Storify stories, which can now be published and shared through the iPad app as well as the web app, are easy to embed on any web page. No matter where the stories are posted, each element within them maintains its functionality. Tweets, for instance, can be retweeted directly from a Storify timeline.

In web-based form, the tool has been used by media organization and citizen journalists to cover everything from arrests of reporters at Occupy Wall St. protests to Fashion Week.

Going mobile makes sense for the two-year-old startup. Good reporters leave their desks — and if Storify wants to be a go-to reporting tool, it had better do the same.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, jallfree

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NASA Wants You … to Eat Space Food in Hawaii [VIDEO]

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 08:49 PM PST

Calling all supertaster space nerds: NASA wants your help to improve the bland food astronauts would have to eat while on a mission to Mars.

The space agency is looking for applicants to eat astronaut food for four months during a simulated trip to the Red Planet. Participants will try instant foods, and ones with shelf-stable ingredients, and scientists will record their reactions. The goal of the experiment is to discover what foods people like to consume consistently.

Cornell University and University of Hawaii-Manoa researchers want six people to eat space food and wear spacesuits on a lava flow in Hawaii for 120 days. Although, participants won’t actually go to space, the participants will act as if they are on Mars. The researchers will record the participants’ reactions to typical NASA foodstuffs, such as flour, sugar and dried meat.

Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological or physical sciences, mathematics, or computer science, and they need to have professional experience. Don’t apply if you’re a smoker or don’t speak English. Selected participants will go through a two-week training mission and will be paid $5,000 upon successful completion of the mission.

Round-trip travel, space food and lodging will be paid for. The application is open until Feb. 29.

Who wants to apply for this project and fulfill (at least part of) their childhood dream to be an astronaut? What food would you want to take on a Martian mission? Tell us in the comments below.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, adventtr

More About: Mars, NASA, space

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Why are Brands Shutting Their Facebook Stores?

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 08:22 PM PST


Eager to monetize the large followings they had built on Facebook, many large brands set up shop on the social network for the first time last year.

Now many of those Facebook stores are closing.

A Bloomberg report this weekend pointed out that Gap, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom and GameStop have all opened and closed shops on Facebook within the past year — undermining expectations that the social network will become a major revenue driver for retailers over the next decade.

"We just didn't get the return on investment we needed from the Facebook market, so we shut it down pretty quickly," Ashley Sheetz, VP of marketing and strategy at GameStop, told Bloomberg. "For us, it's been a way we communicate with customers on deals, not a place to sell."

GameStop opened a store on Facebook in April 2011, and closed it six months later.

"There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop," Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester Research, added. “But it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they're hanging out with their friends at the bar."

The End of F-commerce?

Still, none of this proves that social networks don’t have potential as sales channels. It may be that retailers simply haven’t harnessed the power of these platforms in the right way.

In most cases, retailers have entered the f-commerce market by importing their online catalogs and making them available for purchase in a Facebook app. The experience is nearly identical to shopping on their websites, with two major differences: 1) Shoppers can complete their entire browsing and checkout experience without leaving; and 2) the Facebook apps tend to work more slowly.

In other words, consumers have little to no incentive to shop via these Facebook apps.

Others simply have not dealt in enough volume — offering, say, just one item for purchase each month, or discounting one or two items for a short period.

Although these efforts have generated a fair amount of PR buzz, most of these companies are losing money on these efforts because development costs are so high, says Maureen Mullen, director of research and advisory services at luxury research and consulting firm L2.

Or the problem may be Facebook’s competition. If spending time on Facebook is akin to spending time with your friends at a bar, Pinterest is more like heading to a craft fair, Forbes‘s Jeff Bercovici points out — you’re there to browse and to shop, and brands are finding the platform worth investing in.

Facebook, at present, isn’t built for that kind of shopping experience. But it could certainly build Pinterest-like tools to make it that way.

At the very least, Facebook has become an important traffic driver to retailers’ websites. For instance, 1.9% of traffic to Burberry’s website in September 2010 came from Facebook; a year later, 29.1% of site traffic was from the social network, Mullen wrote in an email to Mashable.

“[Burberry is] using the platform to drive traffic at a fraction of the cost of what it would have to pay on Google and other search engines. In addition a significant portion of that traffic and resulting sales is likely incremental,” she added.

Mullen also pointed out that half of shoppers are logged in to Facebook while they shop on third-party ecommerce sites, which lets retailers “capture the massive amount of user data Facebook has,” she says. Brands such as Smashbox and MAC are also incorporating friend recommendations within their ecommerce pages.

In other words, it’s too soon to lament the demise of F-commerce. What we do know is that replicating retailers’ ecommerce sites is not the way to go about generating revenue via Facebook, at least for now.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, -Oxford-

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Twitter App Updates Bring New Features for iPhone and Android Users

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 07:42 PM PST

Twitter announced updates to its iPhone and Android apps on Tuesday, re-introducing some well-loved features and adding new improvements as well. But the updates don’t impact all mobile tweeters equally.

Both updated apps bring back the swipe shortcut. That move allows users to reply to, favorite and share tweets — as well as retweet posts and view other user profiles — all without leaving their own timelines. The updated iPhone and Android apps also both introduce a feature designed to expedite the process of finding friends on Twitter via existing email and phone contact lists.

The Android update optimizes Twitter to run on the Ice Cream Sandwich version of the platform, as well as on Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet and Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Nook Color tablets.

People who use Twitter from their iPhones will see the most changes, though. The company has returned the ability to press and hold text to copy the body of tweets and user profiles. And a new read-it-later option now saves links within tweets for delayed gratification. To activate the “Read Later Service” option, go to the Settings menu and click Advanced. That option will join choices to tweet, copy or email links via the Twitter mobile app’s sharing feature.

For iPhone users, Twitter has also updated the design of the direct messages section and brought back the ability to mark all messages as unread by tapping a checkmark in the lower righthand corner. iPhone owners can change their font size, too.

What do you think of Twitter’s mobile updates? What are you most excited about, or what’s missing? Let us know in the comments.

More About: android, iphone, Mobile, Twitter

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PlayStation Vita: 15 Games You Can Play at Launch

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 07:14 PM PST

1. Army Corps of Hell

In this title, you play a king banished to Hell who must fight his way back and take revenge on his enemies. Harness an army of goblins to do your bidding. The game immediately felt like Pikmin or Overlord, as you command your goblin minions to take down bigger bosses with a range of attacks. They'll also build a shield to defend their king. In fact, some of Pikmin's developers worked on the game for Enterprise Co. The game debuted with the Japanese Vita as well.

Click here to view this gallery.

The PlayStation Vita launches Wednesday with plenty of impressive features, but many may wonder if the system’s launch titles will be worth grabbing right away.

Some of the biggest titles on the list include Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Rayman Origins, proving that Sony did not want to bring a new console into this world without top franchises to back it up. Notable also is Lumines Electronic Symphony, a sequel to the ubiquitous PSP puzzler that was a staple for the system.

There are also other popular PlayStation franchises making the jump, including ModNation Racers, Hot Shots Golf World Invitational, and the quirky fan favorite Touch My Katamari, where you have to help cure the King of All Cosmos of his depression.

The question around many handheld games is whether they can make the transition from console to small-screened portable, and in early play-throughs, many of these could, while benefiting from the Vita’s new features like gyroscopic sensors, a touch screen and a capacitive touch back. There were some that utilized these in interesting ways. The most clever was the Vita’s FIFA Soccer title, which allows players to direct passes using the touch screen on the front, and shoot goals by pressing locations on the back’s touch-sensitive surface.

Most of the titles run for $39.99 each, either in retail stores or through the Vita’s own online store — though you’ll still have to buy blank proprietary media cards on which to store the games if you purchase them online. Sony will also offer many classics from the PSP as well.

Do any of these games make you want to purchase a Vita? Or are you waiting on something better? Tell us in the comments.

More About: Entertainment, features, Gaming, PlayStation Vita, portable gaming, PS Vita, sony

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Kid Calls Out LeBron James on YouTube Over Dunk Contest No-Show [VIDEO]

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 06:42 PM PST

Each day, Mashable highlights one noteworthy YouTube video. Check out all our viral video picks.

LeBron James, you have officially been called out. By a kid. On YouTube.

“Why won’t you play in the dunk contest this year, man?” asks young Sollomon Gessesse, who uses the Twitter handle @5ollyMon45.

James has been among the NBA’s highest fliers since joining the league in 2003, but never participated in its signature All-Star Weekend event. He has teased fans with the idea, however, and in 2010 backed out of a supposed plan to show off his jamming prowess in the annual Saturday evening showdown.

Like many fans, Sollomon appears tired of watching rookies and fringe players vie for the NBA’s dunking crown.

“It’s the NBA, where magic happens, not where rookies go because the All-Stars are just at the hotel clubbing and drinking and stuff, man, come on,” Sollomon says. “Don’t let my Saturday night go to waste, man.”

Sollomon, who is from Portland and appears to be a middle-schooler, has some social media savvy. He also tweeted the superstar directly at his @KingJames account:

King James has not yet replied back with his answer. But if he hasn’t already gotten word of Sollomon’s video, James will surely see the clip soon enough — as the monologue has enough classic lines to make it an Internet hit.

The dunk contest video isn’t Sollomon’s first time taking James to task via Twitter, either. Check out this tweet from the middle of the NBA’s off-season lockout:

Do you think LeBron should crash the dunk contest party and save Sollomon’s Saturday night? Let us know in the comments.

More About: sports, YouTube, YTVOD

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The Content Battle Heats Up: Comcast Launches Netflix Competitor

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 06:17 PM PST

Comcast is hoping to prevent its cable customers from cutting the cord by introducing a new streaming video service.

The service, known as Xfinity Streampix, is designed to complement Comcast’s existing Xfinity on Demand and TV Everywhere initiatives. Xfinity Streampix will become available to Comcast customers later this week and includes access to full-seasons of TV shows from Disney-ABC, NBC Universal, Sony and Warner Bros. It will also include streaming access to full-length movies and kids programming.

In a statement, Comcast describes Streampix as “another step moving TV Everywhere forward by giving customers access to an even greater library of popular choices to watch.” The service will be included with most Xfinity triple-play packages and the Blast! and Blast! Extra video/Internet packages. For users who don’t subscribe to a qualifying bundle, the service will let customers purchase the service for $4.99 a month.

Customers can access movies and TV shows using Xfinity On Demand, and the Xfinity TV app. Comcast plans to roll out support for Xbox 360 and Android in the coming months.

The Content Battle Heats Up

How is this different than Comcast’s existing video-on-demand strategy? It’s all about content. Ultimately, the battle taking place between TV Everywhere (and traditional cable) and over-the-top services (such as Netflix) is about content. More specifically, it’s about access to that content.

Critics of the cable TV paradigm often point to price as the main reason that customers cut the cord. It’s true that pricing — especially in a recession — is part of the shift, but I would argue that it’s less about price and more about perceived value. What’s the point of a $150 cable/Internet package if I can only watch on my TV (and must rent a box for each TV set)? Meanwhile, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu offer location-agnostic services and access on a plethora of devices.

One of the reasons that HBO Go has proven to be such a success for the premium network (to the point that once-resistant cable providers have now signed-on) is that it gives customers location-agnostic access to HBO programming, thus making HBO a better value for end users. It answers the value question by giving users the opportunity to consume content from multiple device types and locations.

Cable providers succeed in providing iPad/web access to on-demand and live programming, but many of the best on-demand offerings are still relegated to the set-top box. With Streampix, Comcast is hoping to give users an additional incentive to keep that cable subscription by offering access to streaming content from other devices and locations.

Is This Enough?

Fundamentally, Comcast’s strategy isn’t dissimilar to what Dish Network is doing with its Blockbuster Movie Pass service. It’s giving subscribers additional value and added content. Comcast is going a step further by making its service available on more device types and locations.

Still, is this enough to prevent users from cutting the cord? The lineup of programming that Streampix has secured doesn’t look particularly impressive — it’s nothing that users can’t already get from Netflix or Amazon Prime. But still, as a free add-on, it’s a good start.

Ultimately, Comcast is going to have to play licensor alongside its competitors in the space and this just means that content owners will continue to have more leverage in what they can charge to license content.

But I can’t help but think this might be the start of what could be the true savior of cable TV as we know it: Multi-device/location-agnostic access to live programming and on-demand content across the board.

If cable could manage to get over the fear of letting live TV leave a specific location (as Cablevision limits access to its fabulous Optimum Online app), the average user might not have a reason to cancel cable. After all, if I can watch live, on-demand or catalog content from the office, a Wi-Fi enabled airplane, my parents house in another state or at home, wouldn’t that $150 a month be more worth it?

Only time will tell if Streampix will help Comcast move towards that direction. But at least it’s a start.

More About: comcast, netflix, streampix, subscription streaming, tv everywhere, xfinity tv

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You Can’t Sue Family Over Unwanted Facebook Photos, Says Judge [VIDEO]

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 05:42 PM PST

Whether we look too young, too old or too inebriated, we’ve all been there — tagged in unflattering Facebook photos. But if you’re thinking of filing a lawsuit about it, think again.

Uploading an unflattering photo is not grounds for a harassment suit, a Minnesota district court has ruled.

Aaron Olson of Chisago City, Minn. figured this out the hard way, on behalf of every Facebook user who has ever been embarrassed by a photo tag. Olson sued his uncle Randall LaBrie for harassment, after LeBrie put a posted a childhood photo of him posing in front of a Christmas tree, along with a snarky caption.

Olson requested his uncle remove the photos or edit them to remove Olson from the images. Though LaBrie removed the photo tags, he told Olson that if he didn’t like the photos he “should stay off Facebook.”

Judge Natalie E. Hudson ruled that “to constitute harassment, words must have a substantial adverse effect on the safety, security, or privacy of another. Comments that are mean and disrespectful, coupled with innocuous family photos, do not affect a person's safety, security, or privacy — and certainly not substantially so.”

Translation: You are safe under U.S. law to embarrass your family members.

SEE ALSO: Awkward Family Photos Website Launches Board Game

In fact, LaBrie and Olson are not even Facebook friends, suggesting there’s more to this family drama than revealed by the lawsuit.

How do you respond to unwanted photos of yourself tagged on Facebook? Do you think Olson overreacted? Let us know in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, USERNAME

More About: Facebook, lawsuit, mashable video, photo tagging

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Sorry, HBO and Showtime: Netflix Will Get ‘The Artist’ First

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 05:18 PM PST

Netflix has signed a multi-year exclusive licensing agreement with The Weinstein Company that will give the streaming service first-run access to films such as The Artist — even ahead of premium cable channels such as HBO, Showtime and Starz.

That means select Weinstein Company films — including foreign-language offerings, documentaries and select specialty titles — will debut on Netflix rather than with the premium cable networks, as had happened previously.

Variety reports that the deal will exclude films that are already part of The Weinstein Company’s earlier agreement with Showtime. It isn’t clear if those films will become available on Netflix after the Showtime window ends.

This isn’t the first time Netflix has signed first-run deals with film studios. In September, the company signed a longterm pact with DreamWorks Animation. This followed an earlier arrangement with Relativity Media.

As Netflix faces increased competition from cable companies and streaming competitors such as Amazon and Hulu Plus, the company is angling to sign as many of these exclusive deals as it can. The company is also pushing head-first into developing original scripted content.

More About: netflix, netflix streaming, the artist, the weinstein company

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Google Wants to Plant 1,000 Acres of Satellite Dishes in Iowa [VIDEO]

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 04:56 PM PST

Google Fiber Inc., a subsidiary of the search giant, is asking the FCC for permission to install 4.5 meter satellite antennas on 1,000 acres of land next to its data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The FCC responded to Google Fiber‘s application for filing on Wednesday. Page 2 of the FCC’s public notice about the filing details plans for “fixed earth” satellites in Council Bluffs.

The satellites “will be located adjacent to each other and will be used to provide analog and digital audio, data and video services,” the document notes on page 11.

The satellite antennas could be used to get feeds from broadcast networks. It’s possible those feeds could be bundled-up with Google’s high-speed fiber service.

The subsidiary of Google purchased 1,000 acres of land in 2007. The plot of land next to the $600 million Google Data Center — where the satellites would be situated — is visible on Google Maps.

This could be the next step for Google to expand its uber-fast fiber network around the country, according to analysis site Data Center Knowledge.

Although the satellites would be planted in Iowa, Kansas City residents — just a few hundred miles south — would benefit first. Kansas City won Google’s contest to test its high-speed network. More than 1,000 cities competed for a chance to test the fiber network with speeds 100 times faster than the typical U.S. Internet connection.

Are you eager to test Google fiber? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto, sharply_done

More About: fcc, Google, satellite

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How HelloGiggles Creates a Positive Online Community for Young Women

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 04:36 PM PST

Among the cold, often critical world of the web, HelloGiggles is warming it up with fun and empowering, lady-friendly content.

The website — created by Zooey Deschanel, Molly McAleer and Sophia Rossi — is a space where people can creatively connect in an entertaining and supportive environment.

“There is so much negativity online, so even if the content on a website is positive, the community is often incredibly negative,” says Deschanel. “I was always shocked by how mean people could be when they were allowed to make comments anonymously online.”

Deschanel was a big influence in the site’s design, which is splashed with cheerful colors and cute animations.

Content-wise, the site covers everything from crafts and recipes, to tips on how to get along with your roomate — or even how to do your taxes. HelloGiggles is mostly editorial, but there are also a number of video series, such as “Video Chat Karaoke,” which recently got a lot of attention from Deschanel’s New Year’s Eve duet with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Overall, the site enforces a “no gossip” policy, something the creators say often encourages negative commentary from readers.

“We don’t curse, we stay positive and we dont have alcohol sponsors,” says Rossi. “Every article must have a lesson learned, or contribute something to our readers — we really want to make sure that it’s not a personal blog.”

According to McAleer, who is responsible for gathering most of the contributors to the site, it is the content’s value that is driving conversation among readers. “I really believe that if there’s maturity in the content and the overall tone of the site, that it will inspire real conversations,” she says. “Even if there are disagreements, they can be executed in a respectful and intelligent way.”

Primarily, the site’s audience is women ranging in age from 13 to 35. However, Rossi, who manages the day-to-day business of the site, says there are a lot of male contributors and supporters. “I think our ‘About’ page probably feels a little bit ‘man-hatey’ than normal,” admits Rossi. “I don’t think [the site] alienates women, but it’s thought-provoking and conversational.”

Among the 150 contributors, male bloggers include producer and father Shane Nickerson, whose story about his daughter turning eight was a huge hit, according to Rossi.

Young bloggers like Maude Apatow and Ruby Karp, are also prominent on the site, where they cover content about elementary school and middle school.

Rossi says that some of the younger bloggers’ parents choose to monitor content, but the comments they receive are overwhelmingly positive, and that they continue to encourage feedback from adults.

“I am proud to have helped create a place where women and girls can feel safe to be their creative selves,” says Deschanel.

More About: features, Media, women

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For Texting Without Looking, Researchers Adapt Braille

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 04:18 PM PST

Touchscreens on everything from coffee makers to treadmills are intended to provide better user experiences, but they can create a navigational nightmare for the visually impaired.

A new technology developed at Georgia Tech, however, makes touchscreens more accessible to the estimated 22 million American adults with vision loss by adapting the same system used to type Braille.

“Mobile keyboards have too many buttons that are too small, and it turns the sighted into the blind and makes it so the blind can't even use the device,” says Mario Romero, a Postdoctoral Fellow who led the project.

Once installed as an app, the technology pulls up a six-key braille-based keyboard rather than the standard QWERTY 26-letter keyboard.

Many visually impaired already use smartphone touchscreens without a problem. The iPhone’s gesture-based VoiceOver mode, for instance, reads aloud whatever text someone touches on the screen. Android has a similar feature. Typing, however, is a more difficult matter. Romero says he realized the extent of the problem when he heard about an typing application for visually impaired mobile phone users that on average spit out a measly two words per minute.

“[It would take you] one minute to write your first name and another one minute to write your last name,” he says.

In order to speed things up, Romero’s mobile keyboard for the visually impaired borrows the six-key system of the most common typewriter for Braille, the 60-year-old Perkins Brailler. The idea is that people who already know how to type Braille on a typewriter won’t need to learn a new system in order to type on their phones.

At least among 11 test subjects, the theory has panned out.

The best performer in the group, a 57-year-old visually impaired man who learned Braille as a child, was able to type 32 words per minute with 92% accuracy after just 20 minutes of practice.

The app, BrailleTouch, won’t be coming to the iPhone because its operating system doesn’t allow developers to mess with the keyboard function. The team has, however, planned a free Android version of the app.

Georgia Tech’s public relations team is promoting the project as something that texters might use “while walking, watching TV or socializing without taking their eyes off what they're doing,” but Romero, who is careful to point out BrailleTouch is not intended for texting while driving, seems less sure that the technology will ever replace the mobile keyboard for mainstream users.

"Braille was not optimized for texting,” he says. “It was optimized for reading with your fingertips."

More About: Braille, BrailleTouch, Georgia Tech, rubiks touchcube, visually impaired

Bug-Eyed Student’s Basketball Face is Internet Famous

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 03:54 PM PST

What’s a University of Alabama freshman to do after instant Internet fame invades his life because of a viral cardboard cutout of his face? If you’re 19-year-old Jack Blankenship, you flag down Beyonce and Jay-Z at a New York Knicks game Monday night.

“Beyonce laughed and did ‘The Face!’ Jay-Z did too!”

“I waved at them for the longest time and did the face at them too,” Blankenship told Mashable on Tuesday after appearing on the Today Show in NYC. “Finally, I captured their attention. Beyonce laughed and did ‘The Face!’ Soon after, Jay-Z did too!”

The first high-profile sighting of Blankenship and his cardboard cutout popped up on Feb. 4 during the Alabama vs. Ole Miss contest; ESPN2 cameras captured his antics on camera. The video now has 1 million pageviews on YouTube. A screengrab of the face sign also appeared on imgur and has garnered 694,658 views.

Blankenship created the cardboard cutout to distract opposing teams’ players. Its popularity sparked his school’s marketing department to print 200 paper copies of it when Alabama played Tennessee on Feb. 18.

His popular facial expression has humble beginnings. Originally, he and his buddy Austin Jackson used the expression to signify whenever something funny was near them. Two more friends began employing the expression, and they even took a Wal-Mart Studio photo of all four of them doing it (see photo on left).

Now, all of his friends from his hometown of Tuscaloosa do The Face and so do fans at Alabama basketball games.

“The people at The University of Alabama have reacted very well to the face,” he says. “The faculty have been really supportive of it too. It was shocking to see my head on so many different things, and when I walk around campus, people recognize me, but they don’t do the face at me just yet.”

The cutout seems to work at distracting players, as far as free-throw shooting percentage goes. The opposing teams’ percentages dip during the second halves, at which time they’re facing Blankenship’s face:

  • Ole Miss: 1st half: 60% free throws; 2nd half: 55% (-5%)
  • Florida: 1st half 100% FT, 2nd half: 67% (-33%)
  • Tennessee: 1st half: 75% FT, 2nd half: 69% (-6%)

“I also do this to prevent the student section from yelling obscenities and negative comments at the opposing team,” Blankenship says.

BONUS: Linsanity

At the Knicks game, Blankenship sat in section 8 about 5 rows away from the court. He says if could make a new cardboard cutout for Knicks guard Jeremy Lin — social media’s newest darling athlete — it would be Lin dressed as Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story: “To Linfinity and Beyond!”

1. Linsanity

The classic.

Click here to view this gallery.

Top image from Ryan Austin King Photography

More About: humor, Jeremy Lin, NBA, NCAA, New York Knicks, sports, trending, viral

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Flickr Gets a Makeover, Looks Like Pinterest

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 03:37 PM PST

What Flickr Looks Like Now

Notice all the white space surrounding the photos in the stream. You see photo titles and can select which size you'd like to view photos.

Click here to view this gallery.

Flickr will be rolling out a number of changes in the coming months, beginning with a new photo stream design, Justified View, and a new uploading feature, Uploadr.

Markus Spiering, Flickr head of product, discussed these changes with Mashable Tuesday. The company’s main focus, he says: user engagement.

Justified View, which will go live Feb 28, trades Flickr’s current white space-filled layout for something that looks a lot more like Pinterest (as has become the trend in web design). The new photo stream will first go live with your contacts (the people you follow). It showcases bigger photos and lacks text data. You can hover over photos to view tags and other information.

The new upload feature dubbed Uploadr, which will go live in late March, lets you drag and drop photos from your computer onto the site. Spiering calls Uploadr more like an app and less like a website. Photos are instantly viewed as thumbnail images, allowing you to add tags as you upload. Spiering thinks this will increase engagement, as Flickr continues to build the Internet’s largest collection of geo-tagged photos (currently numbering at about 270 million).

SEE ALSO: 17 Most-Popular Photos From Flickr Commons

Moving forward, Spiering says Flickr stands behinds Yahoo’s “mobile first” strategy, suggesting some future tricks the photo sharing service may have up its sleeves. The site’s first mobile app, for Android, was released in September 2011.

Though you may not think of Flickr as a mobile photography center in the likes of Instagram or Hipstamatic, the iPhone is now the top camera on Flickr, losing ground only to the iPhone 4S.

What do you think of Flickr’s changes? Where do you think the site fits into the mobile sharing space? Let us know what you use Flickr for in the comments.

More About: flickr, photo sharing, Yahoo

Megaupload Founder Kim Dotcom Now Free on Bail

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 03:15 PM PST

A New Zealand court has granted bail to Kim Dotcom, the founder of file-sharing site Megaupload. Dotcom, born Kim Schmitz, was arrested last month on many charges stemming from the operation of Megaupload, which was shut down by legal authorities (including the FBI) for encouraging piracy.

According to New Zealand’s 3News, a district court judge Nevin Dawson said Dotcom wasn’t a flight risk and had “every reason to stay” in the country. Prosecutors pointed out that Dotcom was a wealthy man with the resources to escape the country. However, authorities froze Dotcom’s assets and seized his multiple passports when he was arrested, and the judge said the assumption was off base.

“The disposition that he is wealthy and must have more assets is not evidence,” Judge Dawson said. “It would seem that he has every reason to stay (in New Zealand) to be with his family and to fight to keep his significant assets.”

SEE ALSO: Megaupload Data Safe for Another Two Weeks

Dotcom is reported to be banned from using the Internet while on bail. Also on his forbidden list: helicopters. A date for his extradition hearing is expected to be set later today.

Another judge had previously denied Dotcom bail after New Zealand police arrested Dotcom with three others at his extravagant residence in January. The U.S. Department of Justice indicted seven people and two companies involved with the site for copyright infringement. A new indictment, filed Friday, adds another eight counts of fraud and violation of copyrights.

BONUS: The Strange and Epic Lifestyle of Megaupload's Kim Dotcom

1. MegaRacer Domination Ends

Until recently, Kim Dotcom was the top Modern Warfare 3 player in the world. He even apparently posted a video to prove it. We imagine it's tough to maintain such a coveted position while being held in jail for multiple copyright violations.

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: file sharing, Kim Dotcom, megaupload

‘Community’ Returns to NBC on March 15, Twitter Celebrates

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 02:45 PM PST


Community is back. After months of speculation, a flash mob at NBC headquarters and fan campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, the quirky community college sitcom has an official date of return to NBC’s primetime schedule.

In December, the network pulled the show from its schedule and said it wouldn’t be back until midseason. Many loyal viewers took this as a sign that the show, which hasn’t always done well in the ratings, would be booted off its lineup for good. NBC announced on Tuesday that the show will return to its Thursday night schedule starting March 15.

“We know that the loyal fans of Community will be pleased with its return to its home on Thursdays at 8:00 p.m.,” Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, said in a statement.

However, NBC is putting the show up against the wildly popular Big Bang Theory. Community will air at 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays, followed by 30 Rock at 8:30 p.m. Meanwhile, Parks and Recreation will take a few weeks off and return on April 19 at 9:30 p.m. In the meantime, Up All Night will finish up its first season during the time slot.

Community writers and cast members such as Joel McHale (Jeff Winger) and Gillian Jacobs (Britta Perry) issued tweets relishing the news. The black goatees — a reference to a recent episode’s “evil timeline” — were worn by members of the Occupy NBC flash mob.

NBC also announced new additions to its Wednesday lineup, including Bent, Best Friends Forever and Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.

The network says its spring schedule incorporates the most original programming in its lineup in the network’s history with only 13 total hours of repeat programming from Sunday to Friday through mid-May.

Are you surprised that Community is returning? Will you be watching? Let us know in the comments.

More About: Entertainment, Facebook, Social Media, TV, Twitter

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Facebook Ads Have Some Competition From ThingLink [VIDEO]

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 02:26 PM PST

Iggy Pop may not need much help engaging listeners, but he’s trying a cool new tactic anyway: an interactive image on his Facebook landing page. The image has embedded links to iTunes and Amazon, so users can click to purchase the singer’s music.

ThingLink, the startup behind the embedded images, has created a new kind of Facebook advertising that competes with the social network’s ads. If advertisers find ThingLink pages more effective, Facebook’s revenue from advertisements could be threatened, as advertisers may opt out of purchasing Facebook’s pay-per-click ads.

Here’s how ThingLink ads work: The tagged spots on an image link to other content services including social media sites like Twitter, Flickr and Linkedin, and also shopping sites such as eBay an Best Buy.

For $5 to $20 per month, anyone can buy a ThingLink Facebook image tab. The Helsinki-based company’s interactive images will increase consumer engagement on Facebook, Neil Vineberg, ThingLink’s chief marketing officer, said in a statement.

ThingLink’s features are appealing to advertisers because interactive tabs are an improvement from traditional Facebook landing pages, which are created by advertisers and include an image with typically a Like button.

"ThingLink Tabs for Facebook turns any Page into an interactive web experience that drives engagement," Vineberg said.

Like Iggy Pop, British comedian Steve Coogan — via his alter ego Alan Patridge — has an interactive ThingLink tab to promote his new book, We Need to Talk About Alan. The interactive images can be posted to all websites including blogging sites such as Tumblr and WordPress.

Do you want more interaction with brands and celebrities on Facebook? How do you think Facebook feels about ThingLink selling interactive Facebook tabs? Tell us in the comments below.

More About: embeds, Facebook, facebook ads

Inside Foxconn: You Will Think Differently About Apple Products

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 02:11 PM PST

Bill Weir at Foxconn NIGHTLINE (image courtesy of ABC News Nightline)

Foxconn plants in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China, where Apple makes a variety of best-selling gadgets, including the iPad. It will also be an opportunity to assess whether Apple is treating its factory workers properly. ABC Nightline anchor Bill Weir, who spoke to Mashable about the special, said that after spending a few days on the factory floors, he now “thinks different about Apple products.”

“We expected to find some real horror stories, and didn't. That said, what is acceptable on a Chinese assembly line is soul-crushing by American standards,” said Weir.

ABC News got the invite after years of requests. That’s right, Apple called Weir, offering him, essentially, an all access pass to the plant floors where Apple builds its key products. Apple’s abrupt about face from secretive to open — at least when it comes to labor — was likely triggered by, first, intense public scrutiny, and then its own decision to invite an audit of its Chinese factories by the Fair Labor Association. So Apple reached out, not surprisingly, to ABC News. Its parent company ABC is, as Weir himself was quick to point out, owned by Disney, which has a strong relationship with Apple that includes the Steve Jobs Trust owning substantial shares in the company. Weir insisted that there were no preconditions about the Apple Foxconn report. He insisted to Apple that it not be a “Potemkin village, no dog and pony show” and told Mashable his team was free to walk the lines, talk to whomever they wanted and report whatever they saw.

Weir came away with a number of striking impressions and unforgettable images and not just from the factories. Thirty years ago, Foxconn City, which is essentially the factory complex in Shenzhen, was a sleepy little city. Now it’s exploding with 11 million people. In it, they build products not only for Apple, but for competitors Sony, Toshiba, Dell and HP.

The other striking image: the suicide nets. They are everywhere, surrounding every worker dormitory and factory. When Weir asked Foxconn workers about the nets, they said simply, “That’s for workers’ safety.”

Those nets went up and Foxconn opened a counseling center after a rash of worker suicides in 2010. Weir said although factory workers at Foxconn do not seem much different than those found, say, in the U.S., the environment at Foxconn can be stressful, “Especially for teenagers who go to that environment, go to the big city and do not know anyone.”

Part of that stress could be related to the kind of work done at the Foxconn plants. Weir said he was surprised by how much of the work is done by hand. “The lines go on forever. The conveyor belt never stops.” Also, most people working on Apple’s gadgets never see the finished product. He saw one woman who carves the Apple silhouette on the back of the iPad case. She’s done it thousands and thousands of times, but had never seen a functioning iPad — until Weir showed her his, “Her face lit up swiping through my photo album.”

As Apple undergoes this self-imposed audit and consumers grapple with questions about the treatment of the people who build the gadgets they love, the very landscape in which Foxconn operates is changing. “It’s a seismic moment [in China],” said Weir. The news anchor noted how much had changed since he first did a series in the country seven years ago. Back then it was “novel to watch TV from Hong Kong.” Now they’re all media savvy. “Everyone has a Justin Beiber haircut, they understand the styles and what's happening around the world.” They also see clearly beyond the walls of the factory floor and even the boundaries of Foxconn City.

There was no fear when talking to Weir and his crew. “No one hesitated to complain about food or dormitories or lack of overtime,” he said. “In many cases, almost to a person, they complained about low pay.” That last point is notable because Foxconn is now dealing with something it never had to before: worker retention. These factories, Weir said, know they have to maintain a level of consistency, and that they now have to treat workers well enough that they will not seek opportunities elsewhere. Foxconn recently implemented a number of significant pay raises.

It wasn’t all controversy at the plants. Weir and his team did film, possibly for the first time, city-bus-sized robots moving huge sheets of iPad glass. However, Weir told me that that was the exception, not the rule. Ultimately, ABC News‘s Foxconn report is a very human story about a company and process in transition. Whether you believe ABC News can report fairly about Apple or not, it will still be worth watching this rare glimpse inside Apple’s “iFactory.”

The special edition of Nightline, "iFactory: Inside Apple," airs Tuesday night at 11:35 p.m. ET/PT.

Watch and let us know what you think of the report in the comments.

Image courtesy of ABC News.

More About: apple, Foxconn, ipad, iphone, ipod, Top Stories, trending

Everything You Need to Know About Wireless Spectrum [INFOGRAPHIC]

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 01:55 PM PST

Spectrum is going to be a hot issue in the upcoming year. Freeing up spectrum is a major part of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Plan, and last week Congress passed a law allowing TV stations to auction their spectrum to the highest bidding wireless broadband companies.

But what is spectrum, you wonder? I’m glad you asked.

All wireless signals — TV, radio, GPS and, yes,mobile broadband — fly through the air on public, invisible signals called spectrum. The name comes from the fact that wireless signals can be sent on a range — a spectrum — of frequencies (the electromagnetic spectrum, to be precise).

Spectrum is most easily recognizable when you tune your car radio: is your favorite local station, say, 101.3 FM? That means it’s broadcasting on a frequency located at 101.3 megahertz (MHz). But if you keep driving for a while, you’ll eventually encounter a new radio station on 101.3 FM, because wireless signals are limited in how far they can reach.

In the U.S., part of the FCC’s job is to ensure that no two signals are being broadcast on the same slice of spectrum in the same geographic area. If that happened, the signals would get confused and become useless.

Spectrum is such a crucial issue right now because it’s finite — there are only so many available frequencies with which to broadcast in a given area. And thanks to smartphones and tablets, we’re witnessing an unforeseen explosion in demand for mobile broadband, which relies on spectrum. Smartphones use 24 times more data than traditional “feature phones,” and tablets such as the Apple iPad consume 122 times more data than smartphones.

Mobile broadband providers only have a certain amount of spectrum allocated to them, so they can’t simply expand their networks to make life better for their users. So they’re fighting to get more blocks of spectrum from places such as broadcast TV channels as some of those companies are thinking about shutting down. That would increase the speed of mobile devices across the country.

Want to learn more about spectrum? Check out this infographic from the FCC:

Spectrum Explainer

Thumbnail image courtesy of iStockphoto, PashaIgnatov

More About: fcc, mobile broadband, spectrum

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Is YouTube Too Big to Fail?

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 01:39 PM PST

Kaiser Wahab is a media, venture, and tech attorney at the New York law firm of Wahab & Medenica LLC. His clients range from Fortune 500 companies to startups, and his practice deals with issues confronting businesses competing in technology, media, brand, and intellectual property-driven environments. Read more on his blog or follow him on Twitter @BizMediaLaw.

"Too Big to Fail" is the albatross of the Great Recession. Now under the specter of a double dip, does the phrase apply to online content distribution as well? On the surface, banks that bet on mortgage securities do not belong in the same sentence as YouTube. So how does the world's largest content platform resemble Wall Street?  Simply, YouTube may be the recipient of a government bailout, albeit a less obvious one.

This year, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Appeals court may have to effectively turn the tube off in deciding Viacom v. YouTube.  Should it conclude YouTube deliberately induced copyright infringement by users, it might apply the MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. ruling to award Viacom monumental damages “of at least one billion dollars.” Viacom would love this, arguing YouTube engaged in systematic content theft, leveraged that content as "startup capital," and avoided licensing costs that law-abiding competitors pay. Yet, Viacom admits present day YouTube is not a viable target and has trimmed its complaint to target YouTube's early years.

Yet, is this as simple as some generic infringer getting just deserts? Or is YouTube something different?

Caselaw Cliff Notes

In the Sony "Betamax Case," the Supreme Court created a copyright "catch" to shield providers of new technologies. In 1984, Sony knew consumers would use its VTR decks to record TV shows. However, the Supremes rescued Sony by reasoning it was not an infringer if its devices were “widely used for non-infringing purposes [or] . . . merely capable of substantial non-infringing use.”

Twenty years later, the Supremes in the Grokster case added a new catch on the catch so that a tech provider could still be deemed a copyright infringement "inducer," even if the tech had a real "non-infringing use." It was this catch that allowed the Supremes to read Grokster's history, management, and brand message to conclude Grokster's operation was premised on inducing copyright infringement by users. And we know what happened to Grokster.

For now, the lower court held YouTube was absolutely shielded from the Grokster ruling under the '98 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), so long as YouTube removed copyrighted material upon notice. Despite the fact "a jury could find that the defendants not only were generally aware of, but welcomed, copyright infringing material," the lower court held that YouTube was absolved, since its general knowledge could not nix DMCA protection. And understandably, copyright holders bemoan this framework, arguing they must play a "whac-a-mole" game against an avalanche of user uploads.

Arguably, the Grokster ruling was a response to useful technologies being leveraged as "obvious" piracy machines. As such, its goal may have been to end DMCA "whac-a-mole" with those piracy machines. Should the 2nd Circuit conclude the lower court got it wrong (a genuine possibility), many commentators believe early YouTube was identical to Grokster in its tolerance and, perhaps, encouragement of infringement. In fact, Viacom has honed in on startup YouTube, making its case partly on founder emails (e.g., "We’re going to have a tough time defending the fact that we’re not liable for the copyrighted material on the site because … one of the co-founders is blatantly stealing content from other sites and trying to get everyone to see it"). Hence, a Viacom victory under the Grokster inducement standard cannot be taken lightly.

Why Is YouTube Too Big Too Fail?

YouTube is not just another dotcom. It is widely considered to be the most visible face of 21st century American ingenuity. The numbers alone bear witness. By 2007, YouTube made up 10% of all Internet traffic, exceeding the web’s entire bandwidth of 2000. By 2008, 25% of all Google searches were for YouTube content.

Now YouTube is an engine of the democratic process. YouTube’s summary judgment brief even made the point that all of 2008's presidential candidates posted to YouTube (that trend shows no sign of slowing). YouTube is also a cultural beacon and exporter of American values. In mid-2011, NPR published an article that extolled the role of YouTube in the Arab Spring.

Hence, by measure of YouTube’s gravitas and relationship with the wider web, the “too big to fail” claims can be hard to ignore. As a result, the 2nd Circuit’s decision will have daunting ramifications. If YouTube loses (even if Google pays up), it will deal a severe blow to the American narrative that startups have told over the last 10 years — that good ideas can flourish in a democracy to produce wealth, value, and a better world for all. While upstarts and established players alike may swoop in to fill YouTube’s shoes, will any of them have a chance at the same success?  What is to prevent them from facing crippling lawsuits? (Consider that Veoh, once thought of as a YouTube competitor, still caved despite a court victory.) And what will YouTube's lost gravitas mean for America's Internet brand, especially given the anti-SOPA movement? This Pandora's box could spur the court to parse the law in order to bail YouTube out.

Judicial "Bailouts"

Bailouts, as we’ve come to know them since 2008, are artificial government market rescues. “Judicial bailouts” are part of that legacy. Where an institution's dive could pose a death blow to the world order, it may be bailout-worthy. And so goes the “too big to fail” logic: A company that seduces the market into a vice grip gets a government pass, even though it might have been reckless.

Critically, TBTF companies are not limited to cash infusions. Indeed, where a legislative body or a court interprets (or creates) the law in a way calculated to vaporize damages for unlawful conduct, it can be seen as a bailout (of the judicial variety). Consider the Supreme Court's recent and debatable prohibition of vaccine-related lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, which many argued was a pharma "bailout." In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor accused the majority of imposing "its own bare policy preference over the considered judgment of Congress" stripping "vaccine-injured children of a key remedy that Congress intended them to have."

Similarly, a YouTube bailout could flow from policy preference to shelter innovation. This could mean a ruling where Grokster applies, but with a newly engineered "catch" that does not gut precedent.

The Redemption Doctrine

Many have noted litigation against YouTube has been glacial, with virtually identical claims against Grokster being adjudicated in a fraction of the time.  Whether due to Google's deep pockets or planetary alignment, YouTube has benefited mightily from the delay.  Since '05, it has morphed from disruptor to deal maker, instituting an array of anti-infringement machinery and inking deals that make the Net the "go-to" content platform for a generation.  In addition, courts have been bombarded with the argument that content industry lawsuits have stymied innovative technologies with flawed beginnings but robust futures.

It is precisely that narrative that might serve as fuel. At the time of Grokster's comeuppance, there was no assurance it could go legit. Due to litigation, whatever promise Grokster had was never fulfilled. In contrast, while YouTube in 2006 was a question mark, by 2012 it arguably became a singular model for online content. YouTube proved it could wean itself off inducing infringement and establish a viable, mostly non-infringing identity. Thus, as powerful as Viacom's arguments over young YouTube's culpability are, equally powerful is Viacom's tacit admission that current-day YouTube is not culpable.

Hence, it is possible the 2nd Circuit will leverage YouTube's arc of redemption and, like the Supremes, devise a catch of its own for the occasion. This catch could be dubbed the "redemption doctrine" — a case by case exception to Grokster's inducement standard, whereby a tech provider would escape liability by demonstrating a committed and successful transformation from "inducer" to market pillar. By doing so here, the 2nd Circuit could avoid a TBTF meltdown and preserve the Grokster ruling, resulting in a de facto bailout.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, JasonDoiy

More About: contributor, features, Google, lawsuits, legal, viacom, Video, YouTube

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On Twitter, Greeks Fear Fallout From the Bailout

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 01:26 PM PST

Greece is about to take a $172 billion bailout from the rest of Europe, but there are strings attached. Greece will have to spend less on government programs and workers’ pay and allow European officials to supervise its finances.

The bailout package might prevent total economic collapse. But many Greeks are worried about the changes that the financial rescue will bring — and they’ve been talking about their fears on Twitter.

Mashable partnered with social media analysis company Crimson Hexagon to analyze more than 13,000 tweets about the Greek bailout. We looked only at tweets about the financial negotiations sent over the last month from within Greece.

Overwhelmingly, Greek Twitter users were concerned with the austerity measures and pay cuts that a deal would bring. Sixteen percent of tweets were worried about the cuts would mean for the Greek economy and society as a whole. Fourteen percent of tweeters expressed concern that their pay might be cut, that they might lose benefits or that they would lose their job entirely. Ten percent doubted if the planned cuts would actually lessen the Greek deficit.

Other Greeks used Twitter to blame their government or society as a whole for the problem. Seven percent of bailout tweets said that tax evasion was the major reason for Greece’s economic woes, 10 percent accused the government of being corrupt and 13 percent of tweets suggested that democracy, born and nurtured in Greece, was now “lost.”

And as austerity riots broke out in the Greek capital of Athens, locals took to Twitter to send pictures and reports from the scene. Sixteen percent of tweets over the past month that discussed the bailout mentioned those protests, workers’ strikes or police brutality.

Crimson Hexagon's software was developed at Harvard University's Institute for Quantitative Social Science and is used by such organizations as the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

In order to generate a report, Crimson Hexagon's research team enters a keyword – such as "Austerity" – into the software. The program pulls more than one million random online posts with the keyword. Then a human researcher starts sorting some of those posts into different categories, like the ones mentioned above. The software starts to find patterns in what the researcher is doing and repeats it for the rest of the hundreds of thousands of posts.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, vasiliki

More About: europe, European Union, greece, Twitter

Microsoft Channels ’80s Hit ‘Moonlighting’ in Latest Jab Against Google [VIDEO]

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 01:14 PM PST

Remember the TV show Moonlighting? Microsoft is hoping you do. Otherwise, you won’t get the main joke behind it’s latest smear against Google.

“Googlighting,” from Microsoft’s Office 365 unit, presents Google as an ill-prepared, smug salesman trying to convince a Cybill Shepherd type to use the company’s cloud collaboration software. “Wait, you want us to be your lab rats?” a skeptical Cybill asks. “Pioneers,” corrects the Bruce Willis wannabe.

Unlike the young Willis, though, the Google stand-in crumbles under Cybill’s questioning about spell check and the ability to use the software when an Internet connection is lacking. He then concedes that the software could change from day to day depending on consumer preference. “Who knows what the future holds for Google Apps?” he asks, insouciantly.

Considering the war of words over patent disputes and privacy issues, this broadside on Google is fairly innocuous.

That’s primarily because the claim that Google is a freewheeling, fly-by-night operation doesn’t ring true. For that reason this latest missive pales next to Gmail Man, a more pointed attack Microsoft unleashed against Google last summer that highlighted Gmail’s creepy practice of scanning your emails for keywords to use for advertising purposes.

Still, is the latest attack amusing? As David Addison would say, “Do ducks duck?”

More About: Advertising, google apps, Marketing, microsoft, Office 365, trending, Video

Square Wants to Bring iPads to New York City Taxis

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 01:04 PM PST

Apple’s iPad, which has already shown up in airplane cockpits and as loaners in at least one library, may soon be appearing in another unlikely place: New York City taxis.

The New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission is considering a proposal by Jack Dorsey’s Square to replace Taxi TVs in 50 cabs with an embedded iPad or another tablet PC. "Taxi drivers are among our most active and loyal users, with thousands of drivers around the country choosing Square as a more simple, cost-effective way to get paid for their work,” says a Square rep. “By partnering with the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission on this pilot, we’ve built a system that meets the specific needs of NYC taxi drivers and makes the payment experience even better for their passengers."

David Yassky, chairman of the TLC, told The New York Times that Square’s technology could pave the way for apps like Foursquare and games.

New York cabs have been at the forefront of industry technology since 2007, when Taxi TV began appearing in the back seats of some sedans. By 2011, Taxi TV was ubiquitous, much to the annoyance of drivers and passengers.

An alternative that passengers can control might be a viable alternative and present a different business model: While Taxi TV’s revenues are based on ads, Square’s technology might enable shopping and paid games.

Square, which has faced resistance from Creative Mobile Technologies and Verifone Media — the two purveyors of Taxi TV — is expected to make a formal presentation to the TLC on Mar. 1.

What do you think? Would you prefer a tablet in your cab to TV? Sound off in the comments.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Phillie Casablanca

More About: ipad, new york, Square, tablets, taxis

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Office for iPad: Why It Would Make Sense for Microsoft

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 12:51 PM PST


If the rumors are to be believed, Microsoft is on the verge of releasing a version of Office for the iPad.

While an iOS version of Office may have seemed unthinkable a couple of years ago, it could be a key weapon in Microsoft’s fight against Google Docs, Google’s free cloud-based productivity software.

The Daily reported Tuesday that Microsoft is expected to launch Office for iPad in the coming weeks. Citing “sources”along with an image of the app’s home screen, the report says Microsoft will soon submit the app to Apple for inclusion in the App Store. An Android version is reportedly not in the works.

Having a version of Office for iPad would give users a way to stay within Microsoft’s walled garden when viewing documents on their favorite tablet. At the moment, Office users must opt for other methods to open their files on the iPad — with one of the most popular being Google Docs.

Why would users trade free (Google Docs) for functionality (Office)? Microsoft reportedly plans to give users the following reasons to switch.

First, the iPad version of Office is said to borrow elements from Microsoft’s touch-friendly Metro interface, currently on Windows Phone but due to spread throughout the platform on Windows 8. The overall look is said to be similar to the current OneNote iPad app released last year. That app is due for a makeover as well.

SEE ALSO: Microsoft Begins Private Preview of Office 15

Users will be able to work on documents locally or edit them online, presumably via Office 365, Microsoft’s direct competitor with the cloud functionality of Google Docs.

Releasing a version of Office for iPad would be the culmination of Microsoft’s advance into iOS territory. Over the last year and a half, Microsoft has slowly pushed out app after app for iOS devices, a tacit acknowledgement that one of its chief rivals, Apple, was so dominant in mobile that it couldn’t afford to ignore it any longer.

Far from being a surrender, though, the push for Microsoft apps on the iOS platform is intended to seed adoption before Microsoft pushes even deeper into mobile with Windows 8 later this year. When Windows 8 arrives, Microsoft is also expected to release Windows Phone 8, the biggest update yet for the mobile OS. And there will almost certainly be a plethora of Windows tablets from various manufacturers.

Although the initial report says Microsoft could release Office for iPad within weeks, a new desktop version of Windows — Office 15 — is coming later this year, and the version of Windows for ARM devices (also due in the fall) is said to integrate Office functionality. Will the iPad version come months before both of those projects? It’s possible, and there could be a reason behind the timing.

That reason? You. Do you, as an iPad owner, find yourself using Office alternatives on your tablet more and more? Perhaps Microsoft feels that it needs to stem the tide of Office defectors now, rather than waiting for the Windows platform stars to align.

What do you think of the news about Office for iPad? Sound off in the comments.

More About: Excel, google docs, ipad, microsoft, Office 15, Office 365, Office for iPad, OneNote, powerpoint, trending, word

Google Wants You to Talk to Your TV via Android [VIDEO]

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 12:31 PM PST

Lost the TV remote again? Don’t worry, says Google. In the future you’ll be able to verbally instruct your TV to turn off and on, change channel, and even flag the next rerun of Seinfeld for you — all using your Android phone as the microphone.

That’s according to a patent the search giant filed a week before Apple launched the iPhone 4S and Siri, the voice-based personal assistant. (Coincidence? Yeah, we think so.) The patent, uncovered by Patently Apple, describes a system of voice controls that connects to Google’s cloud services — meaning if you have no data coverage or Wi-Fi where the TV is, you’re out of luck.

The advantage of doing things that way, however, is that you can turn the TV on wherever you are, and choose something to fit your mood. So you could be pulling into the driveway and asking your phone to prepare a sitcom you can wind down with when you reach the couch. (We’re not sure exactly how much of a labor-saving advantage that confers, but if Google also has a patent that can tell your fridge to prepare a beer for you, we’re all for it.)

SEE ALSO: I Want My Siri TV: Is Apple Aiming to Make the Remote Obselete?

Regardless, competition in the voice-activated TV world appears to be heating up. Samsung unveiled a remote at CES that offers voice recognition; it doesn’t control any TV yet, but there should be one coming later this year. And of course rumors persist that Apple is going to launch an iTV, with voice control from Siri.

That could mean you’ll have to own an iPhone; it could also mean that Siri is coming to the iPad, that there will be an iTV remote with Siri, or that the iTV itself will pick up the sound of your voice. There’s much we don’t know about the nascent voice-controlled TV market. Even the Google patent is open to a lot of interpretation; it suggests you’ll use a keyword to let the TV know you’re talking to it, but doesn’t specify the word.

Let us know what you’d name your TV, and whether talking to it at all sounds like a cool idea, in the comments.

More About: apple, Google, google tv, itv, samsung, siri

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‘Babies With iPads’ Blog Implodes From Cuteness [PICS]

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 12:14 PM PST

Babies With iPads

"Taylor pours one out for Steve Jobs every morning. Mommy's milk is precious, but you gotta respect."

Click here to view this gallery.

Two 22-year-old digital media dudes — who don’t own iPads or have babies — are the masterminds behind the adorable Babies With iPads Tumblr blog.

“Whenever we see babies with iPads, we view them as social media rockstars in the making,” Stelios Phili, a GQ magazine web producer co-creator of the blog, told Mashable. Right now, they look real innocent … but really, they're just preparing to take over the world. We think that's cute.”

Phili and Jeff Luppino-Esposito, a social media writer at Nickelodeon, have posted nine pages’ worth of baby photos and written hilarious tech-related captions for each of them. Flip through the smile-inducing gallery above to see the babies in action, and be sure to read the captions for a good laugh.

The duo started Babies With iPads after seeing several Facebook photos of babies wielding gadgets. For now, they’re focused on iPads, but they might consider “expanding the crib” to include other devices or brands if they notice an increase of babies using non-iPad gadgets.

“We have so much fun bringing together two of mankind's most epic creations in a helplessly adorable way and writing these captions that are practically direct quotes from our co-workers and from ourselves,” Luppino-Esposito says. “It’s awesomely cathartic to realize that these bombastic 'social media expert' claims seem as natural coming from an adult as they do from a baby.”

SEE ALSO: 1-Year-Old Plays With Magazine Like It's an iPad [VIDEO]

In related news, a recent Nielsen study discovered that tablet use among children 12 years old or younger increased 9% between the third and fourth quarters in 2011. Children are using the devices to play games, use educational tools and keep themselves entertained during trips.

Want your child featured on the Babies With iPads blog? Lucky you, they take email submissions.

More About: apple, babies, Gadgets, humor, ipad, technology, tumblr

Twitter Partners With Google’s Russian Rival on Search Results

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 11:57 AM PST


Twitter content is one step closer to being integrated into web search — in Russia, at least.

Yandex, Russia’s largest web portal, announced a partnership with Twitter Tuesday, in which all of the microblog’s public tweets will be accessible through Yandex’s search engine almost instantaneously. The same search results will also be available via

Last month, Twitter slammed Google for its decision to integrate Google+ results into search as part of its “Search Plus Your World” update.

“As we've seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter,” the company said in a statement. “We're concerned that as a result of Google's changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone.”

The Russian search giant has taken the opposite route with tweets. You can search Yandex for hashtags and usernames, which is of note because Google specifically said it does not index the “@” symbol. Tweets in Russian, Belarusian, Ukranian and Kazakh, as well as top results in other languages, will be available in Yandex’s search.

Yandex’s Blog Search Manager Anton Pavlov says the company is heavily focused on social search.

“People share news, exchange opinions and discuss all sorts of matters in real time all the time. This kind of information will help us enhance our search results,” Pavlov says.

Yandex, Russia’s most-popular website and search engine, also operates in the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belaurus and Turkey.

Do you think tweets belong in search results? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, pressureUA

More About: Google, russia, Search, Twitter, yandex

5 Key Components of a Successful Interest Graph

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 11:42 AM PST

Moataz Rashad is an entrepreneur and advisor to a few startups. He is founder and CEO of Vufind Inc. and the publisher of VuHunt, a mobile geoSocial real-life game.

The interest graph has been gaining increased attention over the past few months. With Google transforming itself into a social company, and even pushing personalized search, it’s clear that the curated web is a reality.

Furthermore, the interest graph has much more expressive power in the case of the mobile web. Many mobile interest indicators simply don’t exist on the web, for example, checkins, location data, near field communication, etc.

Let’s take a close look at what's involved when building a complete and expressive interest graph platform, and how the resulting graph can effectively optimize ad/reward targeting.

Companies developing interest graph platforms have to overcome the following fundamental challenges.

1. Data Collection

There are two approaches to collecting interest data: explicit and implicit. Companies such as Hunch, Blippy and Pinterest have all attempted to address this by asking users to share interests explicitly, with the incentive that users will get more accurate recommendations in return.

However, this approach has some psychological hurdles. Why would I tell an engine that I like BMWs, only for it to suggest BMW deals to me soon after? And if I mention that I like sports cars, in general, would it suggest cars that are too pricey or too big for my taste? In order to get accurate recommendations, I should be more specific: I like sports cars, but mostly European ones, and only those that are under $60,000.

In other words, the amount of data that I have to volunteer in order to get a decent recommendation or deal is so high that I might as well just search for the product directly.

Amazon does a great job at implicit data collection. The site has all the elements of the equation: your purchase history, product search history and even product correlations (people who bought this also bought that).

Any app where users have to take the time to populate their own interests will invariably have inaccurate or artificial interest profiles.

Facebook encountered this issue with its interest hubs: Most people didn't take the time to populate their profiles with accurate interests. Even if they did spend the time, they populated the subset of interests that they wanted to project publicly. Google+ Sparks faced the same issues.

Interests have to be inferred from normal app usage, where users have opted in. And the app's normal usage has to provide strong interest indicators. General social networks such as Facebook and Google+ have the luxury of collecting vast data of various types. Specialized social networks such as Foursquare and Pinterest collect data that is heavily biased towards one signal (checkins in the former, and liking photos that belong to certain interest categories in the latter).

2. Noise Filtration

Every action online is considered a signal, and almost every signal in the digital world has its fair share of noise, though the noise levels and types vary greatly. For example, comments are extremely noisy (LOL, OMG, etc.), as are Likes/+1s when applied to photos or comments etc.

However, Likes/+1 of brand pages, for example, are very reliable interest indicators. Essentially, “noise” becomes valuable, depending on the amount of effort a person puts in. But the degree of correlation varies depending on the person's behavioral profile.

If you take the time to upload a video of yourself skiing, that's a strong signal. If you simply Like/+1 someone's skiing photo, it may be that you like the person, or you like skiing, or you are simply trying to get the attention of the poster in order to start a conversation.

Repeated checkins at restaurants/bars are strong interest indicators as well. And clearly, reward/deal redemptions and purchases are very strong signals.

Algorithms are typically used to detect noise patterns and spammy comments, etc. Similarly, signal strengths have to be analyzed. To give simple examples, uploading sailboat photos every week is a different level of interest than liking a friend’s sailing photo once in a while. Similarly, checking in at the same sushi restaurant six times last month sends a very different signal than checking in once every two months.

However, here's where the complexity arises. One checkin per month may actually be a strong indicator if the person travels frequently. In other words, the signal strengths calibration algorithm has to be customized according to the person's behavioral patterns and lifestyle.

The beauty is that you don't have to get it right the first time, since, like any neural network, the engines improve with usage over time.

3. Building the Interest Graph

Even after noise filtration engines have been well-trained and continuously re-calibrated to build an interest profile for a given user, constructing an interest graph for a set of users is still challenging. Essentially, the complexity is in aggregating all the signals to form a coherent and reasonably consistent profile.

4. Platform APIs

In my mind, this is the biggest challenge, and so far, no company has managed to deliver a solution. Clearly, a lot of companies build their own interest graphs for their own user bases.

However, being an interest graph platform means publishing APIs that any app/game can use to personalize ads or commerce to their users. This means that your APIs have to be at such fine granularity that other apps/games can integrate them seamlessly, with no detrimental impact on the user experience.

5. Distribution: Attracting the Apps to Use the APIs

As in any B2B sales cycle, the first few customers are the hardest to acquire. In this case, they are also the most important, since their impact on engine accuracy is very significant.

It's very clear that interest graphs are at the core of the curated mobile web, and will be a key driver for mobile commerce for years to come. Many apps are already building relatively accurate interest graphs of their user bases. Ultimately, the companies that build scalable interest graph platforms with APIs that map to numerous apps and games will dominate the mobile commerce ecosystem.

Image courtesy of Flickr, GOIABA (Goiabarea), Shrieking Tree

More About: Advertising, apps, contributor, data, features, Mobile, social graph

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